Democratic Underground

The Potemkin War
January 2, 2002
by birdman

Legendary Catherine the Great was Empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796. Along with the extremely militaristic Frederick II of Prussia and Austria's Joseph II (the rather ditzy music lover depicted in Amadeus) she is viewed by history as one the 18th Century's enlightened despots. Theoretically, these were autocratic rulers with the best interests of their subjects at heart. Of course, in reality they were only slightly less corrupt and self serving than their less enlightened counterparts.

When you think of Catherine the Great you essentially think of two things about her. The first is the untrue assertion that Catherine was killed while getting it on with a horse. While she is known to have had numerous lovers they were apparently all of the two-legged variety (she wasn't THAT enlightened). The other famous story, of course, involves one of her actual lovers, Prince Potemkin. In an effort to show the Empress that her policies were improving the lot of the Russian people Potemkin arranged for the Empress to take boat tours on the Volga to see the lives of ordinary Russians. At each stop the Empress saw happy, productive people living and working in clean, safe little villages.

Unfortunately the villages were fake; Potemkin had created them. Each night as the Imperial party rested (and Potemkin presumably got laid) the cute little village was moved down the river to the next stop on the Empress' itinerary. Whether Catherine was actually aware of the deception is unknown but the phrase "Potemkin Village" came to mean a false fašade, something that was created solely to look good for a particular audience.

We are living through the Potemkin War.

The public is basically being given the war that it wants to see - no draft, few casualties, quick, if somewhat dubious successes. Let our loyal "coalition" allies like Pakistan and the Northern Alliance do the heavy lifting, after all we bought their participation with taxpayers money and a promise to look the other way on human rights violations and (in Pakistan's case) nuclear proliferation.

Thus far we've liberated Afghanistan from the evil Taliban (even though the issue was really supposed to be terrorism - not who ran Afghanistan) and replaced them with the courageous "freedom fighters" of the Northern Alliance who proceeded to treat the newly liberated cities as a virtual candy store where they could commit unspeakable atrocities against anyone who might have been a Taliban or who might have cooperated with the Taliban for fear that the Taliban would commit unspeakable atrocities against them. When they tired of committing atrocities our guys proceeded in some cities to return to the pattern of behavior they exhibited when they previously held power in the country (i.e. stealing everything that wasn't nailed to the floor - after all they hadn't been paid in some time - and ravishing the women as soon as they could get those cumbersome burkas off them - they'd been doing without a lot of things for some time). We now seem to be moving on to nation building, something that we, of course, said that we would never do in Afghanistan because we were preoccupied with the great anti-terrorism crusade.

In the meantime the person who all this was supposed to be about may be buried under a pile of bombed rubble. But then again it looks more and more like he might have slipped or bought his way out of the country to evildo another day (everybody over there seems to have their hand out whether it's government officials being asked to support the war or other government officials looking the other way while the bad guys escape the war). And although our leaders appear to have no clue where the head evildoer is calling home these days we're told that this is no big deal. It's just one step in a grand plan that might take years and we'll be doing really great things even though it may not look like it at times.

Accept the notion that the war will be long and that the results will be vague and often hidden and you will get exactly what you've been promised - a near permanent war footing for the country with only a thinly defined notion of what success is. That leaves it to the prosecutors of the war to define (and redefine) what constitutes a victory. So although we've done little more than replace a bunch of bad guys with some bad guys of our choosing and formed a new government out of a bunch of factions that have spent the last two decades murdering one another we've allowed ourselves to proclaim a great victory.

If Prince Potemkin were still around he'd be laughing like hell.

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